578. MEDICAL JURISPRUDENCE
Chemical Tests.—The .alcoholic extract of colocynth imparts a brown
colour to strong sulphuric acid and a "brick-red colour to vanadic sulphuric
acid (Mandelin's reagent).
Medico-Legal Points-^Colocynth is occasionally taken for the purpose of
committing suicide or for procuring abortion.
This is the sclerotium (compact mycelium or spawn) of the parasitic
fungus, Claviceps purpurea, attacking the grains of several ^ plants, such as
rye, oats, wheat, barley and bajra, in wet seasons and in ill-drained soils.
The ear of the plant is occupied wholly, or in part, by the diseased grains,
each of which is of a deep purple colour, tapering at both ends, curved and
1/3 to 1| inches long. These diseased grains collected, dried and powdered
form the ergot of the shops.
Ergot is lighter than water and has a peculiar odour and a disagreeable
taste. It contains three principal alkaloids, ergotoxine, ergotamine and
ergometrine, together with tyramine, histamine and acetyl choline which are
formed by the breaking down of the proteins of rye during the growth of the
Ergometrine, isolated _by Dudley and Moir,21 differs from the other
alkaloids in the fact that it produces Its effects much more rapidly, that it is
less active in producing gangrene when administered for a prolonged period
and that its use is not followed by nausea, headache and depression.
Ergometrine meleate, or ergonovine maleate obtained from ergometrine
is a pharmacopceial preparation, known as Ergometrine wakoa It occurs
as an odourless, white or faintly yellow, microcrystalline powder, and is
insoluble in ether and in chloroform, but soluble in 100 parts of alcohol (90
per cent) and in about 36 parts of water with a blue fluorescence. The dose
is orally 1/120 to 1/60 grain, intramuscularly 1/240 to 1/120 grain and
intravenously 1/480 to 1/240 grain.
Ergot is contained in Extractum ergotcz liquidum, the dose of which is
10 to 20 minims. When powdered and deprived of its fat, ergot forms Ergota
prcepamta (Prepared ergot), the dose being 2£ to 8 grains, Ergotamine
tartrate (Ergotami-noe tartras) is an official preparation, the dose being 1/60
to 1/30 grain by mouth and 1/240 to 1/120 grain by subcutaneous injection.
It occurs as a white, crystalline powder or in colourless crystals, and dissolves
readily in water. - r , •
Acute Poisoning.—Symptoms.—Dryness and irritation of the throat,
thirst, nausea, vomiting, burning pain in the stomach, colic, slight diarrhoea,
giddiness, paraesthesia, numbness, disturbances of vision, weak, rapid pulse,
dyspnoea, muscular weakness, painful cramps, convulsions, subnormal tem-
perature, suppression of the -urine, delirium, stupor, coma and death,
Epistaxis, .hsemateniesis, haematuria, uterine haemorrhage followed by
abortion, and jaundice may sometimes be found.
Chronic Poisoning: (Ergotism) .—This occurs among those who take ergot
as a medicine for "a long, continued period or among people who eat bread
made of rye flour infested with the ergot fungus.
Symptoms.—The symptoms are those of gastro-intestinal catarrh, followed
by a convulsive or gangrenous form. In the convulsive form the patient
complains of itching, tingling, sensation of insects creeping over the skin and
numbness of the^ hands and feet, which soon spread over the whole body.
He then gets violent and painful tonic contractions of various muscles,
21. Brit. Med. Jour., March 16, 1935, p, 522, ,